“Cracking Down?”

by Joshua Foust on 9/7/2006 · 40 comments

Kyrgyzstan is cracking down on “Islamic militants” who are accused of trying to overthrow Bakiyev’s government. The government claims the harsh crackdown is a necessary step to reduce the influence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and other groups possibly linked to al-Qaeda. While it’s possible the government has legitimate concerns stemming from the radicalism that seems to endemic to the Ferghana region, I can’t help feeling skepticism about the new policy—ever since his U.S.-led rise to power, Bakiyev has become increasingly aligned with both Tashkent and Moscow, creating headaches for western interests (and dramatically raising the lease rates for air bases). I’m not sure a move against possible radicals is necessarily a way of appeasing Moscow, as the Monitor seems to indicate (it could simply be a symptom of finding more solidarity with autocrats), but the move is nevertheless worrisome.

The trick, of course, is that these supposed extremists have been there for years. While the violence along the border should raise eyebrows, the IMU has been virtually neutered—I’d be curious to see if any outsiders have found much evidence of that organization still operating.

I’m interested, too, to see Martha Brill Olcott as one of the big western scholars the Monitor interviewed. Granted, she is very well known for her scholarship on the region, but when it comes to big-picture strategy, I have found her to fall very short of a necessary scope and breadth of analysis. Her focus is just too narrow, which makes her great at analyzing national issues, but transnational ones fall outside her stronger work. Case in point: what exactly is a “wave” of violence? Five incidents? Fifty? In which direction is the violence flowing? For how long a time period? How many casualties? Vague statements like that, which I supposed are necessary in this kind of piece, are totally useless.

Michael Hall offers much more trenchant analysis: Bakiyev, and all leaders in the region, simply doesn’t like anyone opposing their rule. The opposition could be Islamist or secular liberal—if Andijon is any indication, they’ll all simply be written off as terrorists and brutalized.

Then there is the perplexing case of Jill Metzger, a Major in the U.S. Air Force, who went missing from the TsUM in Bishkek a few days ago. No one knows what happened to her, but stay tuned—this could turn into an incident of some sort.

Update: Major Metzger has been found alive, the apparent victim of a kidnapping. Accounts differ on her status—was her hair shaved, or dyed?—but she is alive and on her way back to the states.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Laurence September 7, 2006 at 6:39 am

Michael Hall is a graduate student who works for ICG. Olcott is one of the leading American scholars on Central Asia and author of several books. There’s no contest, at this point…

Joshua Foust September 7, 2006 at 6:43 am

They both made extremely vague statements. Hall’s just happened to contain actual insight into the region, even if it’s something any news junkie would know already. Olcott’s scholarship is extremely good when she limits herself to a narrow scope, but on “big picture” analysis she just isn’t that great. I have no idea who Hall is, he just got a better quote here.

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 6:44 am

BTW, Thank you again for posting this interesting story.

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 7:29 am

Maybe in 20 years Hall will be as knowledgeable as Olcott, but not now. Let’s compare experience and credentials in order to determine who might be more credible. First, from the ICG website on Michael Hall:

Michael Hall:
Michael Hall is a PhD candidate in Inner Asian Studies at Harvard University, and holds an MA in Regional Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia from Harvard. He has also studied in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and previously worked for the Aga Khan Humanities Project in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

From the Carnegie website on Matha Brill Olcott:

Martha Brill Olcott
Senior Associate

Martha Brill Olcott is a senior associate with the Russian & Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.

Olcott specializes in the problems of transitions in Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as the security challenges in the Caspian region more generally. She has followed interethnic relations in Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union for more than 25 years and has traveled extensively in these countries and in South Asia. Her book, Central Asia’s Second Chance, examines the economic and political development of this ethnically diverse and strategically vital region in the context of the changing security threats post 9/11.

In addition to her work in Washington, Olcott codirects the Carnegie Moscow Center Project on Religion, Society, and Security in the former Soviet Union. She is professor emerita at Colgate University, having taught political science there from 1974 to 2002. Olcott served for five years as a director of the Central Asian American Enterprise Fund. Prior to her work at the Carnegie Endowment, Olcott served as a special consultant to former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Soon after 9/11, she was selected by Washingtonian magazine for its list of “71 People the President Should Listen To” about the war on terrorism.

Russian, French, Turkish

Selected Publications: Central Asia’s Second Chance (Carnegie Endowment, 2005); Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise (Carnegie Endowment, 2002); Preventing New Afghanistans: A Regional Strategy for Reconstruction (Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief 11, 2001) Getting It Wrong: Regional Cooperation and the Commonwealth of Independent States, with Anders Åslund and Sherman Garnett (Carnegie Endowment, 1999); Russia After Communism edited with Anders Åslund (Carnegie Endowment, 1999).

Areas of Expertise:
Olcott is an expert in Central Asia, Russia and Eurasia, the Caspian region, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, ethnicity, terrorism, oil and gas policy, natural resources, democracy, U.S.-Russia relations, foreign and humanitarian aid, and Islam.
B.A., SUNY-Buffalo; M.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago
Latest Books:
Central Asia’s Second Chance
Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise
Regional Cooperation in Central Asia and the South Caucasus (In Robert Ebel and Rajan Menon, eds., Energy and Conflict in Central Asia and the Caucasus (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) pp. 123-144.)
More Books…
Recent Articles, Testimony and Commentary:
Is China A Reliable Stakeholder in Central Asia? (Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, August 4, 2006)
Prospects for Political Change in Uzbekistan (Testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Committee, Briefing on Prospects for Political Change in Uzbekistan, July 25, 2006)
”Friendship of Nations” in the World of Energy (Pro et Contra, Vol. 10, Issue 2-3, Summer 2006)
More Articles…
Politics in Uzbekistan July 2006
Akramia May 2006
Geopolitics and Human Rights in Azerbaijan April 2006

Nick September 7, 2006 at 7:47 am

Academic credentials can be a funny thing, though. I heard one academic (British, natch) turn their nose up at the mention of MBO’s name: “Of course, she doesn’t know much about Central Asia … ” (and they weren’t joking either). Moreover, Yuri Bregel has subjected MBO to a smackdown in print, and he know a thing or two about Central Asia.

Nick September 7, 2006 at 8:01 am

Then again, I’m a wannabe historian, and the problem with being regarded as an ‘expert’ on current affairs is that reality can often render your opinions obsolete or outright wrong. Once upon a time, by way of illustration, novelist Leonardo Sciascia was the ‘go to’ author for insights into the mafia on account his books being the first to openly discuss the phenomonen. Unfortunately, by the 1980s, he was given to poo-pooing the idea that the mafia was anything more than a regional criminal organization – an opinion blown out of the water by the maxi-trials which revealed the mafia to be a multi-billion dollar transatlantic criminal franchise.

It’s also (boo!) slightly unfair to compare MBO and Hall, particularly in terms of experience. Your comparison, Laurence, reminds me of a recent PhD cartoon

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 8:01 am

Olcott may not be as knowledgeable as Yuri Bregel–I agree that Soviet-trained specialists may be the best–but he wasn’t quoted about the extent of the militant threat in Kyrgyzstan. When I was in Moscow, people there seemed to think there was a real threat, that what is happening now is a continuation of their Afghan war–America doing Russia’s dirty work–against fundamentalism in a clash of civilizations. Maybe the Russians (and Huntington) are wrong. I’d be interested to know what Bregel has to say about this. Any references to suggest?

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 8:03 am

Nick, I agree with you on this. The cartoon is funny, and I’m sure Hall will also have a very long CV 25 years from now…

Brian II September 7, 2006 at 8:04 am

Sorry, MBO is out of touch. Her supposedly great contacts with regional leaders (Felix Kulov…hmmm…?) are clearly of limited use, and I regret that all the books, etc. may amout to some level of scholarship…but as better informed specialists emerge on the current situation in Central Asia, hopefully her outdated and limited insights will no longer be the reference point for intellectual/strategic thought/policy on the region.

Elizabeth September 7, 2006 at 8:23 am

Thanks for your posts on this blog. I’ve always enjoyed reading Nathan and Laurence’s thoughts as well.
I’m putting together a preliminary bibliography for a Thesis on this region…any must read authors/analysts aside from MBO you can think of? Will look up Nick’s suggestion of Bregel. I’ve got a fairly good list of current articles, but I don’t want to overlook anyone–especially the obvious as is my habit.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 8:33 am

Elizabeth, Here’s a good edited volume with some interesting background information: Alexei Vassiliev, editor, CENTRAL ASIA: Political and Economic Challenges in the Post-Soviet Era, (London: 2001) Saqi Books, 277 pp. It features chapters on each countries by Russian scholars–translated into English from Russian.

Joshua Foust September 7, 2006 at 8:37 am

I’d also suggest looking into recent work by Annette Bohr, Subodh Atal, Stephen Blank, Robert Cutler, and Doulatbek Khidirbekughli. Those are some sources I’ve used for papers on the area, and they should offer a good mixture of specific and broad issues.

Elizabeth September 7, 2006 at 8:59 am


Nick September 7, 2006 at 9:15 am

Elizabeth, depends what your thesis is on. Bregel is very much a historian, but fascinating nonetheless, particularly if you’re interested in things like the Sarts or the Uzbek khanates.

Do you want general histories? look out for Svat Soucek’s History of Inner Asia (?) which seems to be the only solid general regional history (from ancient to modern times) on the market. Also, don’t forget the Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden: Brill, 1960-) which is a’go to’ resource and has articles on pretty much all-things Central Asia (languages, peoples, personalities, religions etc) Each article also has a fascinating bibliography.

Edward Allworth’s Central Asia: 120 Years of Russian Rule (revised?) and Geoffrey Wheeler’s the Modern History of Soviet Central Asia are both still valuable.

V.V. Barthold, meanwhile, is the starting point for all modern historical research on Central Asia. His Four Studies on the History of Central Asia is still a seminal work.

If you have a good idea of what your thesis is on, I might be able to help with more specific readings.

Nathan September 7, 2006 at 9:35 am

Speaking of cracking down on anyone who opposes the president, the arrest of Omurbek Tekebaev on drug charges in Poland is certainly interesting. Edil Baisalov is quoted in the story saying that he thinks the whole thing was a set-up designed to discredit the opposition in the eyes of the international community as well as the Kyrgyz public.

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 10:30 am

Nathan, how about a new post for the arrest story? Maybe some of our readers have more information…

Robert Templer September 7, 2006 at 10:58 am

As the Asia Program Director at ICG and Michael Hall’s boss, I must defend him from the ad hominem attacks that Laurence likes to include in his posts, particularly when it comes to anything to do with the International Crisis Group. Laurence hates ICG — we already know that from his many previous gratuitous and inaccurate attacks. But dismissing Michael sneeringly as just a “graduate student” is reprehensible. I’m afraid this is the usual form for Laurence who loves to indulge in personal attacks on people.

Michael has lengthy experience in Central Asia — certainly outstripping anything that Laurence can claim in any way. He speaks completely fluent Russian and several local languages. He heads a team of some of the best researchers, local and foreign, working on Central Asia in Central Asia. Unlike Laurence, he lives there and spends his time working full time on Central Asian political and economic issues.

Laurence’s comparison is ridiculous anyway. Martha is an excellent scholar with a superb reputation who is always worth listening to. Michael is the same.

This blog would be much improved if Laurence spent less time indulging in petty minded attacks on people and learned a little more about Central Asia.

Joshua Foust September 7, 2006 at 11:09 am

Mr. Templer, I don’t think it’s unfair to question someone’s credentials. I share your belief that Mr. Hall is being unfairly critiqued, as the number of articles he’s published has little bearing on how well he knows the region. But to question someone’s conclusions, as I do with Ms. Olcott, should not be out of line—neither she nor Mr. Hall are perfect.

Robert Templer September 7, 2006 at 11:26 am


I have no issue with your comments and no complaints about what you have written — everyone is entitled to opinions but Laurence’s remarks are just snide and meanspirited and they reflect a pattern of gratuitous ad hominem attacks. You were comparing comments made by Martha and Michael which is fair. What is not fair is to dismiss one of them because of your personal animosity towards an organisation and then ignorantly denigrate their experience which is what Laurence is doing. I have a responsibility to respond to comments on people who work with me when they are being treated unfairly. The brief bio from the ICG web site is just a very short summary — it cannot be compared to a lengthy CV. Michael is an excellent analyst and shouldn’t be dismissed in this manner.

Laurence September 7, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Mr. Templer, I have not made any ad hominem attacks on Michael Hall whatsoever. He is in fact a graduate student. If you have a problem with that fact, you have a problem with Harvard University, not me. Mr. Hall’s biography came from your website, and it was quoted in full. There is nothing unfair about it.

Nor personal, given Mr. Hall’s relative youth and inexperience vis-a-vis Martha Brill Olcott, his inferior record of publication, his lack of a Ph.D., and so forth, it is unreasonable to take his views of events in Uzbekistan as seriously as hers. He simply does not have access to the 25 years of experience, contacts, and research that she does.

Contrary to your statement, a person’s track record does matter when one considers their credibility. If one analyst is more qualified than another, that is a reasonable consideration to take into account in deciding whom to believe.

In this case, I believe Dr. Olcott’s analysis to be correct.

Robert Templer September 8, 2006 at 7:49 am

You know exactly what you were doing. It was a breezy, personalised dismissal of someone based on nothing but your own hostility to ICG. I know right wing ideologues in America always attack the person or institution rather than addressing the issue — Swift Boats for Truth, Ann Coulter etc — but I think it is a shame that you cheapen this blog with your constant personal attacks. You never address issues, you only address personalities and usually in a way that demeans people you don’t even know. I’ve seen you do it repeatedly. It is just sad really. People like Nathan, Joshua and Alexander Morrison make this an interesting site because of their thoughtful posts. It is people like you who have debased political and policy debate in America.

You present no evidence as to why you support Martha’s rather unsubstantiated views that armed groups are swarming over Central Asia. You just dismiss Michael because he works for ICG. But he has spent much of the last decade in Central Asia — none of the “big names” of academia that you adore — Shirin Akiner or Fred Starr for example — can claim that and neither can Martha. There is a lot to be said for experience on the ground, which is why ICG reports get read much more widely and with much more attention than anything written by you.

And of course, if we are all to be judged solely by our CVs here, do you have any qualifications at all to assess anything in Central Asia? Shouldn’t you stick to the evils of Sesame Street?

Josh September 8, 2006 at 8:06 am

I guess I should point out the irony in this conversation: during the debate over Ken Silverstein’s attack Fred Starr this past May, Laurence said “Even if Starr may not be up to Alexander’s standard of “Barthold, A.A. Semenov and O.D. Chekhovich”, he deserves an argument based on empirical evidence rather than name-calling.”

The problem with critiquing anything Hall or Olcott said in this article, that I apparently didn’t state well enough, is that both statements were so meaningless as to have essentially no meaning. Olcott’s statement was sort of non-sensical; Hall’s is generally true, but still not terribly insightful. This could be from how they were quoted in the article.

But Mr. Templer, remember, too, this is a blog—I don’t really have any credentials for talking about Central Asia, aside from spending a summer in Kazakhstan and trying to incorporate the region as best I could into my undergrad papers, so I could be written off in any number of unflattering ways should I say something you don’t like. Deriding Laurence as a hopeless right winger is just as counterproductive as Laurence deriding Hall as a grad student. Neither moves beyond base finger pointing. Let’s not turn this thread into a flame war, ok?

Laurence September 8, 2006 at 8:23 am

Josh, I wasn’t deriding Hall. I was responding to your post saying that you believe Olcott fell short in big picture strategy compared to Hall (was that deriding Olcott?). I posted the CVs to show that if anyone has a solid reputation for big picture strategy, it is Olcott. Experience matters, and needs to be taken into account in evaluating sources. I was a grad student myself not long ago, so I have nothing but the highest respect. But a grad student, even from Harvard, is not the American leading scholar in the field–though perhaps in 25 years Hall may find himself in Olcott’s position…

Nick September 8, 2006 at 8:52 am

And of course, if we are all to be judged solely by our CVs here, do you have any qualifications at all to assess anything in Central Asia? Shouldn’t you stick to the evils of Sesame Street?

Miaow! I often wonder if Registan would win a wider readership if it also had a regular gossip column and Central Asian-related celebrity tittle-tattle, as well as regular flame wars. This has been a most entertaining exchange …

Seriously, as I never tire of quoting, ‘trust the tale, not the teller’ – listen to the story that’s being told, not who’s telling it. Discrepancies will out. Pointless feuds over credentials obscure the real story …

… in this case the true of extent of the militant threat. The basmachis 70-80 years ago weren’t that much of a threat to Soviet rule, but annoying nonetheless. Hyping real or imagined threats is a wonderful way to justify government policy.

Laurence September 8, 2006 at 8:55 am

Nick, re the Islamist threat: Been to New York lately? Notice anything missing?

Nick September 8, 2006 at 9:28 am

Laurence – cheap shot. And I’m talking about Central Asia, not New York. It was a wicked conspiracy, which could have been thwarted, but mistakes were made and thousands died – but their deaths shouldn’t be allowed to justify brutal state policies in Central Asia.

I suspect you probably support the 1% doctrine, but I don’t. Central Asia has some serious problems which are being obscured by GWOT rhetoric. Furthermore, a point on whcih I agree with Craig Murray, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and the secret CIA priisons have been openlyy used bu Karimov et al to justify their own policies.

Nick September 8, 2006 at 9:30 am

I refer, naturally, to the Al-Qa’ida conspiracy – not the nonsense propagated by far-left nutjobs.

Laurence September 8, 2006 at 9:51 am

Nick, IMU is part of the Al Qaeda network, which is why the US invaded Afghanistan with the support of Uzbekistan after 9/11, and why the IMU is still on the US State Department list of terrorist organizations.

Robert Templer September 8, 2006 at 9:58 am


That was not intended as a criticism of you and I would welcome any discussion about the issues. You are right about the statements not meaning much — one quote taken out of an interview by a journalist rarely conveys much. But I’m not the one taking cheap shots here. Laurence is always just about snear and smear and it is time someone called him on it. If he doesn’t agree if you he just attacks you or your organisation — he never deals with the issues, he never debates the facts, he never has anything useful to add to the discussion. He’s the only one on this site who does that and it is pathetic. And if you don’t think he is right wing, read his blog. This is someone who actually thinks Ann Coulter is serious rather than being the brilliant transgendered performance artist/comedian that everyone else knows she is.

There’s a new character on Sesame Street, Laurence — time perhaps for a new edition of your book with an updated chapter on how Abby Cadaby has undermined traditional American gender roles.

Nick September 8, 2006 at 11:27 am

Nick, IMU is part of the Al Qaeda network, which is why the US invaded Afghanistan with the support of Uzbekistan after 9/11, and why the IMU is still on the US State Department list of terrorist organizations.

True – IMU and Al-Qa’ida enjoyed close links after Juma Namangani and others fled to Afghanistan and he was appointed 2i/c Taleban Forces before being reportedly killed in November 2001. I don’t dispute that. But with Namangani dead and Takhir Yuldashev in hiding (where? Pakistan?), honestly, how much of a threat is the IMU?

As far as I can deduce, and ICG reports have been valuable in this aspect, the threat of destabilisation comes from BOTH repressive state policies AND small bands of militants – however, the latter are gaining support because of the policies of the former.

I attended an FCO seminar in early 2005, and Michael Hall was there with a recent ICG report about the cotton industry in Uzbekistan. One of the issues up for discussion was the growing discontent triggered by Government interference in private enterprise and the closure of local markets – particularly in the Fergana Valley. Chatham House rules prevent me from identifying who said what, but it was stated that these policies would trigger outbreaks of violence. Voila – Andijan, may 2005.

Laurence September 8, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Nick, I think Yuldashev has been located, at least according to Bill Roggio (http://billroggio.com/archives/2006/09/talibanistan_the_est.php)–he’s in Waziristan:

While this is not reported in the media, the “Taliban commanders” in attendance include none other than Jalaluddin Haqqani, military commander of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Tahir Yuldashev, the commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The New York Times does place Haqqani and Yuldashev in the Waziristan region. Both men are deeply in bed with al-Qaeda, and it is useless at this point in time to make distinctions between al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan , the Taliban and Pakistan jihadi groups like Lashkar-Toiba. Syed Saleem Shahzad indicates other known Taliban commanders were present at the meeting; “At the gathering, mujahideen leader Maulana Sadiq Noor and a representative of Gul Badar (chief of the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan), as well as other members of the mujahideen shura (council), were seated on a stage while the leaders of the JUI-F [the political party of Pakistani opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman and only party in North and South Waziristan, which was not always the case] delivered the speeches.” Note that while unstated, Haqqani and Yuldashev also sit on the Mujahideen Shura.

Nick September 8, 2006 at 5:15 pm

Everyone seems to “think” they’ve located Yuldashev – neither the Roggio story nor the NYTimes story he cites definitively place Yuldashev in Waziristan; merely state that that is where he is “thought” to be. Semantics aside, my orginal point was that not everyone who opposes the Uzbek government is a militant Islamist and and nor is every Muslim who worships outside the officially-approved mosques. Unfortunately, the government seems to take a dim view of anyone who does.

Nathan September 8, 2006 at 7:58 pm


I echo everything Josh said above.

But I suppose it’s time for a periodic reminder to everyone that I’m a stickler for keeping things generally civil, and that deriding someone for their political alignment rather than the content of their arguments is about the point I feel I need to start cracking the whip. To some degree, I’m fine with it, but I think it’s starting to get a bit out of hand in this thread.

I take it as a point of pride that people of many political backgrounds view this site as credible and (mostly) fair. I would be liar if I didn’t say that I take offense to commenters making comments that lead me to believe they view conservatives as some lesser order of intelligence who can, when convenient, be dismissed as feeble-minded. After all, I lean conservative. But I do try to be fair, so I dislike derision of anyone for their being right or left. On the other hand, I don’t sympathize with bad arguments, so please, by all means, cut the feet out from each others’ arguments.

I sincerely value the comments on this blog and I appreciate that people take enough time to respond. I like to keep the tone high, so cooperation from everyone in that regard would be greatly appreciated.

Nick September 9, 2006 at 5:05 am

Btw the missing USAF Major has turned up.

benny September 9, 2006 at 1:08 pm

[Comment deleted. Really, see my last comment above. — Nathan]

Mark September 10, 2006 at 4:08 pm

I can vouch for Nathan trying to be fair, after all I’m a lifelong liberal and his dad. He has rarely gone to name calling in our political discussions despite his perceived deficiencies in my logic.

I imagine that is due to the way we raised him (and any financial needs he may have at the time) 🙂

Robert Templer September 12, 2006 at 5:42 am


It is not the fact that he is right wing that troubles me — it is the fact that he is an ideologue — as Webster’s defines it “a blind partisan.” Laurence never lets facts get in the way of a good character assassination on someone — as witness by the repeated personal smears he doles out on this site and by the fact that people he has written about have frequently requested corrections to his distorted write-ups of their public talks or comments. You should be addressing your criticisms to him, not me. I’m not the one who makes stuff up on this site — he wrote a long diatribe on this site about ICG refusing to defend themselves at a meeting when in fact there was nobody from ICG at that meeting. Just one of a great many inaccuracies he has put out there. This is of course the problem with blogging — too many people like Laurence with no standards in their reporting and too many axes to grind.

Laurence’s personal attacks, his constant ignorant sneering at anything he doesn’t agree with, regardless of the facts, simply degrades the quality of your blog. It is a mystery to me why you don’t direct some of your determination to keep the tone high to preventing his petty-minded, nasty personal attacks.

Nathan September 12, 2006 at 6:06 am

Robert, all that I directed to you was what Josh said. Everything else was a general announcement.

However, to elaborate, I’m not going to go after anyone for stating an opinion no matter how much I disagree with it. I’ve had it out with Laurence plenty and called him out when I think he’s being unfair. I don’t do it every time I disagree, but then again, I don’t get involved in all the comments on the site.

I think it’s fine to dish out to people in proportionate measure, so I have no problem with you criticizing Laurence or anyone else. The issue here though is that you seem to have as much of an axe to grind as you say he does. If Michael Hall came here himself and wrote what you wrote, that would be one thing. But this whole thing has gone way farther than it needs to have gone.

By all means, I invite you to come and correct the record whenever you see fit. It is most welcome and quite helpful. I just find that it helps everyone out a great deal when it’s done in a way that greatly reduces the chances that a comments thread will devolve into a name-calling match.

Robert Templer September 12, 2006 at 6:44 am


Please do not suggest that I am in the same category as Laurence in any way whatsoever. The only axe I have to grind here is that Laurence should stop making personal attacks and stick to debating the issues.

In this case Laurence did not dispute the facts, did not explain why some interpretation of events might have been wrong and did not provide any contrary evidence for his position. Laurence just dismissed Michael Hall because he works for ICG and Laurence doesn’t like this organisation because he think we are some liberal conspiracy. That happens to be very odd as most of the time we are accused of being part of some right wing conspiracy — look at our board members and you will see quite a few prominent Republicans among the American members. In fact, people like Michael work extremely hard in difficult and demanding conditions to bring serious, non-partisan reporting and analysis that is based on field work and interviews on the ground (unlike every other think tank). Why that should be so worthy of attack is beyond me.

Nathan September 12, 2006 at 8:44 am

Robert, I do think you guys are quite different. And I agree with most of your criticism of his comment on Hall. Personally though, I think he downplayed Hall’s credentials because what he said disagrees with his own point of view than it has to do with ICG. I don’t think, however, it was a particularly vitriolic attack on Michael, which is why I’d like to know what he makes of it so I can know whether or not he thinks it’s that bad.

For what it’s worth, I think you guys do valuable work, and I agree that any critique of your work should be based on its accuracy and merits.

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